Infinitely Finite

It wasn’t long ago that I was listening to a Christian apologist’s radio call-in show when an Atheist protested what he considered to be the biblical view that people spend an eternity in hell.  It has been my experience that Atheists tend to offer poor objections to Christian doctrine generally speaking.  I’m willing to grant that it’s unintentional, but many objections to doctrine, hell in this case, are often rooted in some misunderstanding, i.e., they have some view of hell, or why people end up in hell that is not actually given in the Bible (See, for example: Just Where Do You Think You’re Going?).  This Atheist’s objection was that it is inherently unjust for finite beings to be subjected to an infinite punishment.  I have heard this objection before and I am unmoved by it for two reasons: That isn’t exactly the Christian view — that in hell finite beings are subjected to infinite punishment.  And the objection itself is self-refuting.

First, the Christian view is not that human beings are finite beings.  That is the Naturalist’s (and Atheist’s) view.  It is Naturalism that states that human beings are but mere physical beings alive for a time then, once dead, are no more.  On Naturalism, we are our body.  However, the biblical view is that once conceived, we human beings are eternal beings.  We are more than our mere physical bodies.  We are both body and soul/spirit — material and immaterial.  C.S. Lewis put it this way: You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.  That soul is eternal by nature and after the body is gone, continues in either of two directions.

Which view of reality is true is irrelevant to the discussion.  The issue at hand is the Christian belief.  As such, the discussion must be taken on Christian terms.  Therefore, on the Christian view, it is an infinite (not a finite) being that is experiencing an infinite punishment, and is not inherently unjust as far as it goes.

Now, the objection itself presupposes the infinitude of the human being.  Only an infinite being could suffer an infinite punishment.  It seems as though this should be obvious.  Finite beings, by the very definition of finite, cannot undergo an infinite anything.

Of course, the Atheist likely intends to mean that finite transgressions during a finite time on Earth garnering infinite punishments are unjust.  However, even this intention is irrelevant, and demonstrably so.  The length of time it takes for a crime to be committed, murders for example, take practically no time at all to commit.  Pulling a trigger takes seconds.  And stabbings or stranglings take but a minute or few, and life sentences for murder are routinely dispatched.  Conversely, it could take days or months to steal money or items of a few hundred dollars worth which might incur no jail time at all.  How long it takes to commit the crime is quite often irrelevant to the punishment imposed.

This objection trades on the mistaken premise that (according to Christianity) we are finite creatures.  Putting aside the misconstrual of the Christian understanding of the dual nature of man, the complaint itself presupposes its own refutation.  Finite things by definition cannot undergo infinite experiences.  What we have is a poorly thought out objection to the Christian doctrine of hell on two levels.  We are not finite beings if the Christian view is true; and if Atheism is true, then this discussion is an exercise in wasting time, it doesn’t matter.

Comments

  1. Good distinctions, especially on the lack of correlation between the time to commit a crime and its severity.

  2. If you really want to have this discussion, John, I’ll tell you where your argument falls apart.

    Your insistence that this discussion be taken on Christian terms simply shows your presupposition that the bible is true and that souls exist and are eternal. Before you run down that road and try to justify the black and white thought process of eternal bliss or eternal torture, I would stop and ask you to prove the presupposition.

    Your whole argument is based on special pleading.

    Don’t you find it the least bit implausible that eternal beings are created at one single moment in time? This violates not only the laws of physics as we know them, but any stretch of plain common sense. It is, as you put it, “self refuting”.

    • Z

      The reason it need to be taken on Christian terms is because it is a Christian doctrine that is being criticized. It has nothing to do with whether the bible is right on the issue. Additionally, souls are immaterial and not governed by the laws of physics. You’re trying to weigh a chicken with a yardstick.

  3. You appear to glide over the principal objection: the extraordinary disproportionality of eternal punishment, period (i.e., not because of the different finite “times” it takes to commit an infraction–but because of the horror of the concept of eternal punishment, period). I suspect (but do not know) this objection has something to do with the Catholic development of the doctrine of Purgatory. The notion that millions of souls are condemned to punishment not merely for a hundred or a thousand or a million years, but FOREVER, is a doctrine that many of us, no matter how sympathetic to the religious impulse, simply cannot abide.

  4. “Infinite punishment for finite failures” is the long and short of this refutation of Christian ethics. It is not a refutation of Christian physics, biology, or cosmology as Christianity argues from ignorance on those points (as JB says, Eternal souls … are non-physical and not governed by [the laws of physics].) so there is no reason to respond to a non-argument.

    However, the idea that someone should be punished infinitely for finite failures is itself bad ethics. Specifically, it is unjust. Let us take the example of a brutal rape and murder. The law provides for long-term imprisonment and possibly the killing of the perpetrator, ie the maximum punishment a government can provide. More specifically society has an interest in the removal of a demonstrably dangerous individual by imprisonment or killing in order to protect society from any future attacks against others. Punishment for vengeance, hopefully, is subordinated to punishment for the protection of others.

    JB references several heinous crimes as examples of what should be punished. If it is the case that hell is the punishment for crimes such as rape and murder, that is still infinite punishment for finite failures. Certainly an individual has paid his or her debt after let’s say 100 years of torture in a lake of fire. Or maybe after a finger-snap education from an all-good, all-powerful deity capable of the eloquence and clarity of message to inspire any criminal to a life of virtue. However, infinite punishment, even for Hitler, Pol Pot, or Charles Manson would be unwarranted. Even the victims of these madmen would eventually be swayed eventually that further punishment does nothing more to alleviate their pain.

    Eternal punishment is unjust regardless what the crime is, but what is the crime in the Bible? Some terrible crimes are encouraged by the god of the Bible (http://www.evilbible.com/Rape.htm). The only unforgivable crime is failure to worship the right god (Matt 12:31). If I don’t like Jesus enough, he’ll toss me in a lake of fire. Many Christians, (JB included but correct me if I’m wrong,) contend that if I live a good and loving life all of my days but never accept Jesus as my savior, then into the pit I go. If Christians say that an otherwise good and loving non-Christian would be tortured in hell, then that is amoral malice. If Christians say that Hitler would go to heaven if he had a death-bed repentance to Jesus then that is cronyism and corruption. (For the record, the latter is more ethical than the former.)

    An eternal soul, tortured or otherwise, is an illogical and certainly unscientific concept, but that isn’t relevant to the discussion. Hell is unjust because the punishment exceeds any crime someone could commit in their lifetime.

  5. @ John
    I think it seems you have missed my point. You are asserting that an infinite being is created at a finite point in time. How would you go about proving that infinity has a starting point?

  6. Like Kendrick, I also feel like you did not address the predominant contention with hell: that of an eternal punishment. But I would also like to bring into this discussion the principle of what exactly constitutes as necessary eternal punishment under Christian doctrine. Hell is not a place designated for the morally depraved of this world; there is one thing – and one thing only – that sends one to Hell. Theoretically, I could very well have been the modern-day equivalent of Hitler and still go to heaven if I made a (grant this for the sake of argument) transformative conversion. Therefore, the idea of hell is not that it is a place to punish the wicked, but rather a place to send those who are not Christian. Now, granted, there is a strong correlation between those who would be in hell and the immorals of this world, but this mere correlation and not causation. We are not examining punishment for immoral acts, we are examining punishment for failure to convert.

    Now, bearing in mind the actual purpose for hell (since it seems to have been overlooked thus far), it sheds new light on why an eternal torture is considered to be unjust: not just because the act of an eternal torture is unjust (it is) but also who is being punished must also be considered. To make the point more clear, we should examine what we ourselves consider to be just and unjust punishment. After all, according to Christian doctrine, man necessarily has the same moral convictions as God as it is from God from whom we garner our moral precepts. Do you truly believe that an eternal torture for non-conversion is ethically justifiable? I say torture because this is not like here on earth. There are three possible punishments here: detention (life-long or not), death, or torture. Detention is not equivalent to hell simply because they are not suffering like they would in hell, there is no tortuous element to jail. Death is not compatible because a) it is more for the benefit of society that the convict is being put to death and not an actual punishment and b) there’s the whole thing of comparable time. Torture (irrespective of how you feel of its efficacy) is only used, at least to my knowledge, to acquire information. We do not torture for the sake of torture as punishment. And if we do, we certainly would not torture for an eternity. The mere fact that we flinch at the thought of an eternal torture speaks to how pervasive this notion is that an eternal torture is unjust. More to the point, we would certainly shudder at the idea that Gandhi was being inflicted with an eternal torture because he merely failed to convert.

    Lastly, we must also consider the concept of hell with respect to the benevolence of God. Is hell really the best notion that a perfectly benevolent being can come up with? Mere deprivation of heaven would sufficiently be punishment enough, but no, this loving supernal being had to take it one step further and inflict pain on top of it. This sounds more of a maliciously hateful being than one who does not like to punish. I’ve heard it frequently said that God does not like sending people to hell. If this is the case, and it certainly should be the case if a consistent personality means anything, then why God devise the most heinous punishment imaginable? This is not mere punishment. The fact that you or I could easily devise a punishment that is still punishment (for instance, have the damned in an eternal state where they are conscious of the fact that they will never be able to enter into heaven) but that is incredibly more benevolent than hell speaks volumes of how much of an overkill hell is.

  7. JB – “Who’s law”!?! That definitely buys into the amoral source of “god’s law.” Ethics has been abandoned in favor of piety. Don’t follow the rules and you will burn. Don’t give supplication and you will burn. It has nothing to do with love, freedom, avoiding suffering, or any other ethical value.

  8. As predicted, you have many people sitting in judgment of God because they “know” better. Hmmmm.

    The severity of a crime also varies depending on whom you commit the crime against — e.g., lying to your friend about how much you make is different than lying to the IRS.

    Mocking your creator and violating his laws countless times is a serious issue.

  9. Feel free to take your attention elsewhere Max if your expectations have gone unfilfiled.

  10. John,

    If you are responding to something I said, it would be courteous of you to include it in the discussion.

  11. @John,
    Sorry, not following you. You’ll have to do a better job of keeping your commentary in context.

    @eMatters,

    Mocking your creator and violating his laws countless times is a serious issue.

    I would never mock my Mama, and violating her rules definitely does have consequences. Good thing she’s a nice atheist like me.

  12. “Were you under the impression that God, in order to be good, should not punish evil? I mean, what is your problem with hell, its duration, or that it exists?” – JB

    Punishing evil makes sense. What god punishes, however, is not evil, it’s disobedience and disloyalty. Petty tyrants are concerned about disobedience and disloyalty. Doing what you’re told and doing the right thing are not necessarily the same thing, and a just leader (god or otherwise) would make that distinction clear.
    The problem with hell is that it is excessive punishment and that the punishment is meted out for what should not even be a crime – not loving god enough. There is also a good argument that a truly powerful and loving god would never need punishment and would, instead, have perfect rehabilitation and repentance programs that would encourage right action and protect others from harm while ‘miscreants’ learned their lessons in a supportive environment. But if punishment is needed, it should be reserved for actual crimes and proportional to the transgression – hell fails badly on both counts.

  13. Thus says the clay to the potter. I find it odd that atheists know such an infinitesimally small amount of facts about the physical universe (as do Christians), yet they are completely, 100.00% sure that there is no way God could have justifiable reasons to do what He does.

  14. eMatters,

    You said:

    “As predicted, you have many people sitting in judgment of God because they “know” better.”

    I don’t think any atheist would ever say that they “know” better than God. I based my response off a common Christian tenant: that our morality was instilled in us by God. Indeed, is this not one of Craig’s favorite arguments for an objective morality? “There is an objective morality, and deep down we all know it.” As such, I based my response off what I – and I believe most other people (both theist and non-theist) would concur – believe to be a moral injustice. How then are we supposed to account for this discrepancy between God and man? Why do most men view an eternal hell as unjust while God clearly views it as just? Are you then willing to admit that most men’s moral sentiments diverge from that of God’s? From whence, then, this new moral sentiment? We are not discussing matters of the physical aspects of the universe, eMatters, we are discussing ethics. This gives me as much say in the matter as you if you are also under the impression that our morality comes from God.

    • Oscar

      If you read jason’s comments, he is precisely saying he knows better than God. And so does every Atheist who argues what does and doesn’t deserve what punishment. Deep down we do all know right from wrong, and more often than not we quibble over degree. For example, we all agree (most likely) that lying is wrong. But then we try to make excuses as to why it is ok to lie a little, or to spare feelings, or to… I’m not certain God makes that distinction the way we do. So when someone steals a pack of gum, to us, it’s “meh, it was just a pack of gum”, but to God it is much more significant. It wasnt yours, you took it, it was someone elses, you had no right to it, etc.

  15. Oscar,

    That’s all well and good, but there’s a simpler rebuttal. There is no need to sit in judgment of that which does not exist.

    Don’t you dare criticize the beauty and magnificence of my imaginary creation!

    OK. It’s all yours then. Enjoy it.

  16. “Infinite beings and finite beings” –> this is such nonsense, I don’t even know where to begin untying the confused knots of language.

  17. @ Sabio

    Yes, this discussion has become quite a bit of nonsense. In order to even entertain it, we must suspend reality as we know it and assume the existence of an infinite being, be it a deity or human. (Yes, I say “as we know it”, because no one has proven anything beyond our physical and finite existence here on earth.)

    @ the rest of you

    Why are we all pretending to know what this supposed deity judges or doesn’t judge? Christians are quick to say definitively, but as soon as someone suggests otherwise they point fingers and say “how dare you!” In the same breath Christians say you can’t be sure, they speak with such certainty.

  18. tobeforgiven says:

    It is very difficult for us to speak on this without allowing humanity to interfere. We, especially Christians, like to catagorize things that happen to us in terms of punishment vs. reward. Karl Barth says that Hell is being apart from God. God has established that anyone wishing to be near him (ie be in heaven) must go through Jesus Christ. If not then they will not be near God, thus they will be in hell. To put it in a more applicable sense, Jesus is the door to heaven, if you do not accept the existance of the door or you refuse to open that door, you will most certianly not enter into heaven. Instead, you will keep on walking further and further from God, thus hell.
    Romans 2 give us some interesting insight into this. When God “sends” someone to hell, it means that he allows them to go the way they seem to want to go. In Romans 2 he does this becuase they deny his existance. God gives them over to evil actions and thoughts, he does not cause them to do said actions, but allows them to do what they desire to do. In the same way God allows folks who deny Jesus Christ to walk past the door.
    Read C.S. Lewis’ book “The Great Divorce”.
    Oscar, it is good to talk to you again. I have not heard any more as to the direction of our previous discussion.

  19. Marshall Art says:

    “Why do most men view an eternal hell as unjust while God clearly views it as just?”

    The answer must lie somewhere near where one finds the reason most men are unwilling to live according to God’s Will. Similarly, most children view their grounding, spanking or loss of privileges as unjust.

  20. Max – JB writes the columns, so it would make sense to listen to his feedback even if you disagree.
    JB – it does help if you address your responses to someone, which you normally do. It is a bit confusing when you don’t.

  21. For the ‘atheists’ judge god crowd:
    Unless you’re talking to god, then you can’t say what it wants. And if you’re talking to god, you’re probably crazy. You’re reading the same book I am – the bible – and coming to your own conclusion. The false assertion you are making is that your interpretation of the words represents god’s judgment. So don’t hide behind god to justify your logic. I’m disagreeing with you, not your god.
    (also see related post re: actually judging god)

  22. For the ‘atheists’ judge god crowd, part 2:
    And yes, atheists are perfectly qualified to judge **what they know** of god. If what I know of god is based on the Bible or certain hateful, immoral or amoral practices, then yes, I get to judge and should. If **what you know** of god is only a feeling and the words in an old book, then you absolutely should compare that limited information with the vastly greater knowledge you have of the world (vs what you know of that book).

    Hell is torture and torturing people is wrong. Even in the tiny areas of “homeland security” where people try to justify such an act for the greater good, there is no talk of torturing simply to enforce obedience. This kind of torture is wrongfully carried out, for example, for blaspheming Allah or questioning the regime or being beaten for calling your father a drunk. These are all objectively immoral acts because they don’t solve the problem, they cause suffering to individuals, and they set an example that perpetuates bad behavior.
    No matter how powerful a being is (e.g., created the universe and is everywhere), worship doesn’t follow from power. Tyrants may use their power to enforce obedience, but we should only love that which is good. Worship, reverence, respect: these are all borne of ethical, inspirational, and consistent actions. If the god of the bible metes out hell as you describe it (eternal fire torture) for the reasons you give (lack of piety or even lifelong depravity) then your god is unjust and unworthy of worship at least on that point.

    tobeforgiven (2BF hereafter) goes on a certain line of reasoning that says “torture is bad, so my good and loving god wouldn’t torture people. Hell cannot be torture, so it may just be self-imposed separation from god.” That seems reasonable to me, at least within the assumption of god and an afterlife – don’t like god, go your own way, no hard feelings. It’s like in Demolition Man when Dennis Leary preferred the sewers to the Taco Bell paradise. (sorry if you haven’t seen it.) This is the good and righteous act of questioning the bible. Even if you believe in a god, don’t take an old book’s word for it.

  23. JB – definitely take the two posts together. They’re two sides of the same coin. I’m willing to let you, as a Christian, judge your Bible for the most part. Unlike some of my atheist friends, I try to take your interpretation as valid and then compare that to reality and ethics as appropriate. (like in 2BF’s interpretation).
    So what that means is you can interpret the bible as saying the soul is eternal and hell is eternal torture, as most Christians do. I can take that on its face. I think your view of the eternal nature of the soul is beside the point; rather, what happens to the soul in the afterlife? If it’s eternal torture, then that is immoral and you should denounce such a tyrannical system, or at least say you comply with Christianity due to fear not love.

  24. I realize the “ancient text” and “bronze age mythology” memes are accepted uncritically in atheist circles, but the age of a document addressing moral issues is irrelevant. Also, if the Bible came out in 2010 then the atheists would say it was too new to be the word of God, because He would have spoken long ago.

    People are welcome to ignore the distinction between torment and torture, but we are also welcome to ignore their straw men.

    “Unless you’re talking to god, then you can’t say what it wants. And if you’re talking to god, you’re probably crazy.”

    That isn’t our argument. We talk to God in prayer, but primarily “hear” from him through the Bible. Neither are indications of being crazy.

    “You’re reading the same book I am – the bible – and coming to your own conclusion.”

    Yes, but words mean things. Using your logic I could say I read your words and came to my own conclusion that you are a Bible-believing Christian. We both know that is false.

    If you want to tell us what we’re misinterpreting in the Bible and what you are getting right, that would be helpful. For example, I can point to 100+ passages pointing to how Jesus is the only way to salvation. That isn’t what makes it true, of course — I point to the evidence of his life, death and resurrection for that. But it does mean that it is a clear and emphatic teaching of the Bible. Some people can and do try to say that Christianity allows for other paths, but the text proves them wrong. But the mere existence of a contrary view doesn’t turn the topic into a coin flip.

  25. eM – I think the clarification you’re missing is that in a rational argument, it can be interesting for one side (me) to accept certain questionable premises (the soul is eternal and may end up in a burning lake of fire) in order to have a discussion about whether such a thing is ethical or not. That doesn’t mean there isn’t truth to the ‘questionable premise’. The Good News is there is no hell. Some say it’s just separation. But that’s not the discussion we’re having. We’re talking about whether it could be just or ethical to “torment” someone with burning fire for eternity, and conversely whether impiety/disobedience/unworshipfulness warrants much “torment” if any (let alone hell).

    ps. Bible books and books about the Bible, not to mention new religions and new scientific discoveries come out ALL THE TIME and they’re all met with the same response. Claims of finding the Higgs Boson, fish with feet, faster-than-light neutrinos, extra-solar planets, and near-earth objects are all claims we meet with the same skepticism. We’re no more likely to accept the Higgs Boson purely because it’s a ‘scientific’ claim than the tomb of jesus. They both get the same skepticism to apply certainty according to the weight of the evidence. If bearded, robe-wearing man floated, glowing from the sky declaring him/herself to be Jesus returned with a new 2011 Bible version would you automatically bow down, or would you take a moment to question the claim? New Bibles have popped up many times – http://dangerousintersection.org/2006/10/22/who-changed-the-bible-and-why-bart-ehrmans-startling-answers/ … but that’s another discussion you can take up there.

  26. tobeforgiven says:

    I believe I am not being quite understood.
    1Timothy 2:3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior,
    1Timothy 2:4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
    I read in scriptures as it is written. We tend to think of God as the punisher, but my God, the God of the Bible, the complete story, old and new testament, is a God who ultimatly wants to save us from punishment. If God were to say that the only way for man to avoid eternal damnation was to be a good and moral person who abides by the laws of the Leviticus and Deuteronomy, then I would say that he is unjust, as we are incapable of living so. But as Christians, as adherants to the new covenant, as those under the Lordship of Jesus Christ we are not required to kill infidels, we are not called to obey certian daily rituals, we are not called to seperate ourselves from the world, but we are simply called to believe and accept.
    It is as if there is a hallway, and at the end of that hallway there are two doors, one is good and one is bad (this assumes the existance of absolutes). The good is an eternity of good, and the bad is eternity of bad. There are signs all along the hall, pointing and directing us to the good door. Flashing lights tell us that if we dont go through the good door we will have to go through the bad, they tells us that through that door is an eternity of the worst kind of torture, which is seperation from God, eternal aloneness. If we avoid the first door, the good door, we will have to go through the bad, and we will suffer there.
    I find it interesting that Hell so offends non-beleivers. When a Hindu tells me I am not going to be reincarnated I don’t get offended, I don’t judge their God, as I do not believe their God exists, why judge what does not exist. The same is true for muslims who say I will not go to heavn, or Mormons who say I am dstined to hell for not believing in the new prophecy. So why are many unbelievers so worried and offended about a hell which they do not believe in?

  27. What you’re describing, TBF, is heaven and hell as metaphor. This is remarkably close to my interpretation. You speak of the doorways at the end of the hall, and I believe there is likely a final moment of reckoning – for those sufficiently wakeful and aware of their ultimate demise – at which point we must assess our lives and judge its worth. How we measure up to our own standards of what is right and wrong and how we have lived our lives will create a heavenly or hellish last vision of reality, as the case may be, before the eternal sleep. My own personal metaphor is that these doorways are not only at the end of the hall, but we walk through them every moment. The more we walk through the doors to hell – doing selfish and harmful things, to ourselves and to others – the more pain and misery we find here and now. The more we walk through the doors to heaven – being kind, generous, and loving without a greedy heart, the more we dwell in a peaceful state of bliss and well-being, as do those we offer our kindness to.

    There is a commonality in our views, and this is what I find to be at the spiritual core of the world’s religions, the perennial philosophy. The tendency towards judgment and sadistic glee at the eternal torment of those who think differently is one of those subtle doors to hell along the way. Neither the godly nor the atheists are immune from stepping through that doorway, and I believe there is much of this false pride contained within the most revered of holy texts in all religions. I believe Christ’s core message was essentially free of this taint and it is what draws you to the “new covenant” as you describe it, over the fear-based world view of the ancient tribes of Israel. The temptation towards fire and brimstone (for one’s enemies) remains pervasive, however, in the New Testament so I can’t give it a complete pass. It’s still the work of fallible humans who are often choosing the wrong door, much as they might wish to be saintly and righteous. In fact, I might suggest it’s those most eager to be pure and righteous who are drawn towards entry into that particular portal of hell.

  28. 2BF – “I find it interesting that Hell so offends non-beleivers.., why judge what does not exist.”
    “to say I’m simply “offended” marginalizes the discussion. I’m not judging god so much as you. The question is whether you can tell the difference between moral and immoral, using hell as a point of discussion. I’m not doing so simply to have a discussion, but to try to make the world a better place through your beliefs.

    “It is as if there is a hallway, and at the end of that hallway there are two doors, one is good and one is bad we are simply called to believe and accept”
    So the decision of which door to pick, and whether you ‘believe and accept’ is an amoral decision. This is neither good nor bad, at best. To expand your analogy (in just one of many ways), imagine you walk through the hall and there are starving children and two people walking. The first walks through the hall, feeds the kids, teaches them, and leaves them fulfilled and strong – ie, he lived a good life, but then he walks through the “wrong” door. Then the second person walks through, ignores the kids, and maybe kicks one to death on the way. Then walks through the ‘right’ door. This analogy shows that ‘walking by faith’ is an amoral decision and has nothing to do with whether a person has lived a good life. By extension the core message of the Bible is to believe, and nothing else matters. That message is at least amoral, and by extension to those that stick to its highest and most pious ethic of pure belief, it is immoral by virtue of not promoting good and allowing evil with reward.

  29. Hi Jason,

    Your reply to TBF fits right in with my many doorways hypothesis. The starving kids response is a perfect example of one of those doorways along the way. Perhaps the final doorway leads to a quiet room where you can sit and consider all the right and wrong choices you made as you walked down the hall -then pass away immersed in your consequent private heaven or hell.

    the core message of the Bible is to believe, and nothing else matters

    I’m not sure this is the core message of the spiritually enlightened masters of any religion, but it tends to be the primary misinterpretation of their teachings in almost every case. One exception would seem to be Buddhism, which is not really a faith-based doctrine, though many who call themselves Buddhists fall into the same trap. A better reading of the Buddha’s teachings is as a guide to selecting better doorways in life. I don’t think the Buddha is unique in advocating for this, Jesus probably had a very similar idea, as did countless others who didn’t become so famous.

    One thing I neglected to mention regarding “being offended” by religious views. I’m not offended in the least by some people’s belief in wildly improbably cosmological fantasies. I find myself bemused rather than disturbed. What does offend me is the idea that without such beliefs one cannot be moral. I don’t need a higher authority to decide which doorways to pass through. Imagining myself in the place of the suffering is all that is required. I’ve chosen to ignore this imperative many times and in doing so created my own living hell, so I know of what I speak.

  30. For those still interested in this line of discussion, I recommend “The Others” by Neil Gaiman. It’s a fascinating story about torture for failures (practical and internal). It’s not infinite torture, but it certainly does the trick, and it does not eliminate the possibility of future peaceful and redeemed living. It’s also not strictly punishment, although does have the effect (in this magical world) of eliciting repentance.
    This is an example of an afterlife torture that would cause people to understand and grow beyond their sins in a finite time period. It compares favorably with burn-forever Hell on almost all the important points (except torture). And, this also relates to the topic of ‘doorways’.

    (there may be an ad at the beginning – just skip through to text. As this is a proxy for hell, please be warned of some graphic language)
    http://jeniong.multiply.com/journal/item/163/Seven_Deadly_Sins_-_Part_7_The_Others?&item_id=163&view:replies=reverse&show_interstitial=1&u=%2Fjournal%2Fitem

  31. Wow! Great story. You’re right that that hell is a lot more just that the “eternal torment” of the bible. It’s also a lot scarier. The biblical hell is so ridiculously unjust that it seems absurd and impossible to take seriously.

    I kind of hope we just go straight to eternal sleep.

  32. If it’s not too late, I might offer to step in as an outsider and offer another Christian’s view of Hell for what it’s worth…

    Hell is, it seems to THIS Christian, separation from God, from the Good, the Kind, the Pure. We can observe this in the real world. War has been called – rightly, I’d say – Hell. It is destruction and indiscriminate shedding of blood. It is an abandonment of compassion and justice in favor of an indiscriminate “killing the enemy” and any innocents around “the enemy.”

    The presence of Good, of compassion, kindness, love, this is the absence of hell, and vice versa.

    The Bible says (and DOESN’T say) a great deal about “sheol,” “hell,” “gehenna” etc and, IT SEEMS TO ME, a fair reading of nearly all these passages would result in the conclusion that these are terms being used figuratively as a way of describing what great torment there is in separation from God (from the good, the pure, the loving, etc), not as a literal description of how God punishes a certain subset of sinners for eternity in a literal fire.

    Most of the popular Christian notions of “hell” appears to come more from Dante than from the Bible, it seems to me.

    Just for what it’s worth, another Christian view on the topic.

    • I know this topic has veered from its original topic: that humans are not finite beings. But, to some degree I agree with you Dan.

      From the descriptions of hell in the bible, none of them describe it as torture. The descriptor is torment. It is described as utter darkness, but it is said to be burning. I get the impression that the mental anguish of being separated from God affects the body in such a way that it can only be described as burning. I know I have been stir crazy at times, with no electricity, no light, nothing to do, nowhere to go, for more than a week. I have often thought of what my reaction would be if I was stuck in a coffin-like container with no light or and cannot move completely conscious. It makes me shudder. Much like the way inmates in solitary confinement are greatly tormented, I can imagine even if there were no physical affliction being implimented, it would be severely tormenting.

  33. So your distinction between torment and torture is mental vs physical? So it’s ok to mentally abuse someone, but not to physically abuse someone? I disagree. Military prisons lock people in solitary for their safety and the safety of others. They’re offered light and room to move around, and they’d be offered more if they were shown not to be a danger to others and if the prison system could protect them from other inmates (depending on the situation). Even prisons understand the mental anguish involved in solitary confinement and seek to mitigate the issue even for the worst offenders.
    I commend Christians for recognizing the torture/torment inherent in Christian hell and the conflict that has with any sort of loving/good god. I hope you go further than just physical torture. Mental abuse can be as bad or worse. This torment/torture distinction is irrelevant.

    • Speaking only for myself, the only torment I speak of is the self-imposed torment of those who choose to separate themselves from God (ie, from Good, pure, loving, etc).

      God, I don’t believe, is not willing for anyone to suffer and wants to invite ALL to be part of the Way of Love and welcomes all who come down that Path. But we are a humanity that has a free will and it is on us to choose the Good Way/ways or the Not-Good Way/ways. We aren’t forced.

      The more we embrace grace, love and the Good Way, the less in hell we are, the less hell we create for ourselves and for others.

      One man’s opinion.

    • Jason,

      No, I am not saying the distinction is mental vs physical at all. What I am saying is I’m not fully convinced the torment in hell is physical affliction. It seems to be severe mental anguish caused by separation from God. I don’t known that hell is described as a place where God is actively participating in causing the torment.

      However, I am not opposed to hell being a physical torment. There is a difference between torment and torture. Perhaps I’ll write on that soon.

  34. John…

    I know this topic has veered from its original topic: that humans are not finite beings.

    A question (I have no huge investment in this/don’t really care about the point, it’s just a question for clarification): If finite is defined “without limits” or “without a beginning or end,” does the notion of human souls who HAVE a definite beginning or limit – just no end – qualify as “infinite?”

    I agree with those who noted that the “humans are not finite beings” argument seems to be missing the point raised about “eternal torture/punishment,” for what it’s worth. I don’t know that anyone is much arguing whether or not the human soul lives on forever, but rather, they’re questioning the Justice of an eternal punishment for something as simple as one sin or even just being born with a sinful nature.

    Just a thought…

    • Dan

      I addressed why even the complaint that crimes are finite in their duration to commit is not entirely relevant to the duration of punishment.

      But there is a distinction between infinite and eternal. Infinite denotes continuously continuing into the future without end. Eternal is without beginning or end. It is a significant distinction that most people do not care to make.

      • I see the difference you’re suggesting, but do you think that fits the standard English definitions of those terms?

        From Merriam Webster:

        Infinite: 1: extending indefinitely : endless
        2: immeasurably or inconceivably great or extensive : inexhaustible
        3: subject to no limitation or external determination

        Eternal: having infinite duration : everlasting

        Speaking from a standard English usage point of view, Infinite seems to be without boundaries in space or number, whereas eternal seems to be speaking more about time. In either case, I’m not sure that a Thing with a definite starting point could be exactly “infinite,” but that may be mere semantics. Again, this point is largely irrelevant to me, I was just curious.

        I think what some people see is that some Christians would argue, “IF a baby is born and lives only long enough to commit ONE SIN and then, because the baby did not repent and accept Jesus as Christians want them to do, that baby is condemned to an eternal separation from God (and thus, eternal torment, however you want to define it)…” and this would seem a disproportionate response to the point of being grossly unjust, which would seem to be a contradiction of the Christian view of God’s nature.

  35. So if it’s a self-imposed torture/torment/abuse* then does that mean someone can get into heaven after death? If god stands behind the door, key in hand, and refuses entrance and relief to those who are suffering, then that is taking an active role in suffering.

    • Jason…

      If god stands behind the door, key in hand, and refuses entrance and relief to those who are suffering, then that is taking an active role in suffering.

      I guess I would see it as God has opened the door and invited us in and we are free to choose to go in or not. That God forces no one in is not to say that God is taking an active role in suffering, it seems to me. Do you think so?

  36. “I think what some people see is that some Christians would argue, “IF a baby is born and lives only long enough to commit ONE SIN and then, because the baby did not repent and accept Jesus as Christians want them to do, that baby is condemned to an eternal separation from God (and thus, eternal torment, however you want to define it)…” and this would seem a disproportionate response to the point of being grossly unjust, which would seem to be a contradiction of the Christian view of God’s nature.”

    This is the problem of heaven/hell. I would add if a baby lives long enough to commit *zero* sins and lives an entirely virtuous life except for the only true sin – which would be failure to accept Jesus, then that’s eternal punishment (of some sort). The sin, in some viewpoints, is assumed due, if nothing else, to original sin.

    Again, you can interpret your beliefs how you like, I’m just trying to put a focus on what seems to be a fundamental error in the idea of a god that is both good and imposes a hell that is fundamentally unjust. Dan poses the question, but what is the resolution that allows a Christian to still see the Christian god as good?

  37. Jason…

    I would add if a baby lives long enough to commit *zero* sins and lives an entirely virtuous life except for the only true sin – which would be failure to accept Jesus, then that’s eternal punishment (of some sort).

    That is certainly a predominant view amongst many Christians, especially the more fundamentalist-types. Not all Christians prescribe to that view of heaven/hell.

    I think the key term here is “accept Jesus,” and what does that mean? To some, it means a pretty well-defined way of confessing one’s sins and “making Jesus the Lord of your life,” as a direct action that happens, oft-times, on Sunday mornings in a church building, but I don’t think the Bible or logic would limit it to that.

    Myself, I think there are many ways to “accept Jesus” and I’m quite sure that I don’t know them all. The Bible is pretty clear that we religious types will be surprised by who is “in” and “out” of the Party to which we’re all invited.

    So, to answer, “what is the resolution that allows a Christian to still see the Christian god as good?” I’m not sure of the question.

    If one believes that God is the Good and Loving Creator of all and that this God is not wanting ANY to perish/be in torment and that this God invites us all to walk in God’s Ways and away from that which causes torment (hatred, jealousy, war, killing, cheating, etc) and in no way blocks any from entering the Path away from that torment, how is that not a good God?

  38. “If one believes that God is the Good and Loving Creator of all and that this God is not wanting ANY to perish/be in torment and that this God invites us all to walk in God’s Ways and away from that which causes torment (hatred, jealousy, war, killing, cheating, etc) and in no way blocks any from entering the Path away from that torment, how is that not a good God?”
    Your statement is only true if, to start, 1) hell includes no abuse/torture/torment of any kind other than a simple voluntary separation from god and 2) souls in hell can opt into heaven at any time.
    Does your view of Christianity comport with those two statements 1 & 2? If not, then how do you see things differently?

  39. Jason…

    Your statement is only true if, to start, 1) hell includes no abuse/torture/torment of any kind other than a simple voluntary separation from god and…

    Of course, I (nor anyone else) can prove this either logically or biblically, but that certainly seems to be the case to me.

    2) souls in hell can opt into heaven at any time.

    Again, I can’t prove this either logically or biblically and it is certainly a question beyond my pay scale, but that seems reasonable to me, as well. If we can choose to embrace hell and reject God, then it would seem logical that we could also choose to reject hell and embrace God.

    A couple of troubles with this viewpoint, it seems to me:

    1. Established ways/habits are difficult to break out of.
    2. The Bible speaks of people’s “hearts hardening.” That is, that they become jaded and beyond caring about much. I think we can see this in the real world, where people have chosen to embrace bad ideas for so long, that they just have a hard time recognizing “good” and embracing it.

    But God as described in the Bible is certainly a God of second (third, fourth… infinite?) chances. Not being an authority on life beyond this veil (who is?), I could not offer any definitive and/or objectively provable answers, but this strikes me as reasonable.

    • It is appointed for man to die once, then the judgement.

      Everyone has the chance before death. The fact that no one knows when your life will end, it is always best to make the decision today.

      David did say in the Psalms in prayer to God, “you who did make me believe while at my mothers breast”.

  40. Sorry, I responded to your point 1, but it’s in italics, so that might be confusing. I answered, “Of course, I (nor anyone else) can prove this either logically or biblically, but that certainly seems to be the case to me…”

  41. So Dan is on the side of a hell without abuse (by any name) and the possibility salvation after death. I think that is consistent with a good and loving god. I would even say that some appropriate punishment or rehabilitation is consistent with a good and loving god, at least one that lacks the power to teach perfectly without punishment.

    JB is on the side of repent before death or burn forever.

    Obviously the ‘facts’ of the matter are irrelevant here as Christianity is consistently inconsistent with reality on many levels, but I am interested in reconciling the ethics that Christians take from the Bible. If god punishes people forever, then god is necessarily evil. If god provides for hell as an alternative to heaven and allows entry into heaven at any time, even after death, then that, taken alone, is a fair act, and even better than mandatory heaven.

    • Jason

      More accurately, different christians are inconsistent with each other. You can’t blame inconsistency among Christians on Christianity than you can blame inconsistency between economists on the economy.

  42. If god provides for hell as an alternative to heaven and allows entry into heaven at any time, even after death, then that, taken alone, is a fair act, and even better than mandatory heaven.

    My gut feeling is that there is nothing whatsoever to worry about after death. If there is a ride beyond this one, I can’t see myself being in any sense in control. If anyone is in control it’s a complete different “I”. While alive, however, no one can deny that the choices of how I live my life and it’s impact is on others is entirely my own. I make my own heaven or hell in every moment. I own that choice completely.

  43. JB – I recognize inconsistency among Christians, and I declare that to be because Christianity itself is false, so there is no answer to be right about. But I understand you may disagree. Economists disagree because there is only one US economy to experiment on so it’s hard to prove who is right and wrong. Even in state economies or subsets, it’s hard to determine the answer. Also, the distinction is between who is more right and more wrong. Lots of variables and great difficulty in experimenting – that’s why economists disagree. (Economists have predicted 9 out of the last 4 recessions… is a common phrase). Christian claims about history, science, and ethics often have clear, definitive answers that Christianity gets wrong.
    However, I am not asking all Christians to come to a singular agreement, and I’m asking only about the ethics, not the history, etc. I am just asking about your opinion (you JB or you Dan). I’m ok with two different answers from two different people.

    • I recognize inconsistency among Christians, and I declare that to be because Christianity itself is false

      But Jason, this is a nonsequitur.

      Having only one visable explorable economy should produce exactly the correct results by economists. The economy produces direct results that can be measured.

  44. Jason…

    I recognize inconsistency among Christians, and I declare that to be because Christianity itself is false, so there is no answer to be right about.

    And I would posit that it’s because there is no one person or group that can speak for Christianity, no one interpretation of our holy texts that are identified as the One Right answer. A faith system is about faith, not about facts and about right living, not One Right Answer.

    I, for one, am okay with a bit of Mystery and Unknown and have no need to say that mine is the One Official and Right Way.

  45. I, for one, am okay with a bit of Mystery and Unknown and have no need to say that mine is the One Official and Right Way.

    But where do you draw the line? Why can’t the Buddha’s eightfold path be the right way? Or the way of moral atheism? Couldn’t the right way just be the way that leads to an open and compassionate heart?

    (I realize I shouldn’t expect an answer because I have been judged to be one of the disrespectful atheists, but just registering my questions for the record)

    • Max

      You ask the questions like its just a luck of the draw. Why can’t it be those? Its not just a coincidence, it isn’t those because they arent true, not just ‘cuz.

  46. Speaking only for myself, I don’t “draw a line.”

    I appreciate the Way that leads to an open and compassionate heart. It is the Way that Christ taught, it seems to me. It is the Way of Grace and Grace is always of God, it seems to me. Or at least God, as I understand God.

    Jesus told a story about two brothers who were both asked to do a job by their father. One brother flatly said, “I will NOT do it,” but then, turned and went and did what was requested. The second brother said, “Yes, father, I will do that!” and promptly ignored the request.

    “Which brother did as the father asked?” Jesus asked, and the answer is obvious.

    “Those who are not against us are for us,” Jesus also taught. I see very little line drawing in the Bible (except for lines against bad and graceless behavior – and this, often by “the religious”) and am not inclined to do much of it myself.

  47. John,

    A better question would have been, why must there be only one way to an open heart and compassion? Doesn’t it make sense that each culture would have a different perspective? Jesus taught the way that made sense within his cultural context. The Buddha taught within his, Same with Mohamed, etc. All the teachings are corruptible, none are perfect. Only the ideal result, one attainable by atheists as well as theists, matters. Do you foster harmony among fellow humans and other sentient creatures? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but I don’t deny others the way that works for them.

  48. JB – you misunderstand how science works. Economists can know what the current status of the economy is, to a certain level of precision based on the number of factors and source of data, but that doesn’t determine whether things would have been better or worse, for example, if we had stayed on the gold standard or if the Fair Housing Act had never been passed. Those are the sources of disagreement.

    The nonsequitur is your leap from “Christians disagree” to “economists disagree.” The economy isn’t an intelligent, rational actor, nor is the economy supposed to be ethical or loving. Christianity claims those qualities for its god and religion, so the analogy between economics and theology does not hold. Maybe you could compare between Christianity and literature or art or some subjective discipline, but not science or even social sciences.

  49. “I recognize inconsistency among Christians, and I declare that to be because Christianity itself is false”

    That statement can only be made by someone unfamiliar with Christian doctrine. Christians are united on the essentials (e.g., Jesus’ divinity and exclusivity for salvation). If they don’t hold to those then it is as logical to call them “Christians” as it would be for me to be called a Muslim.

    But Romans 14, for example, teaches how Christians should handle disputable matters. This means that God knew we’d have disputable matters and He saw fit to give guidance on how to resolve them. Therefore, it is false to say that Christian disagreement on non-essentials disproves Christianity when Christianity itself acknowledges there will be differences and teaches how to handle them.

    • eMatters said…

      Therefore, it is false to say that Christian disagreement on non-essentials disproves Christianity

      I could be mistaken, but I don’t believe this is what Jason is saying. Of course, he can speak for himself, but that’s not what I understood his point to be.

      eMatters…

      Therefore, it is false to say that Christian disagreement on non-essentials disproves Christianity

      Would it not be an accurate representation to say that a Christian is one who strives to follow/hold to the teachings of Jesus, whom we call Christ? And, if we can agree on this, then even if we have one group that strives to hold to Jesus’ teachings who don’t agree with what many/most modern evangelicals consider “Christian essentials,” does not mean that they are not Christians, only that they disagree with what some Christians consider “essentials…”?

      Which is to say that there is not some One “governing body” of Christianity that gets to say who is in and who is out. We can rightly say, “They don’t hold to traditional Baptist (or Catholic or Methodist) teachings, but I don’t think we can rightly say, biblically or logically, that one who strives to hold to the teachings of Jesus the Christ to be NOT a Christian merely because we disagree with their understanding of Jesus.

      Just seeking to clarify…

  50. “A better question would have been, why must there be only one way to an open heart and compassion?”

    But that asks the wrong question. Everyone is welcome to all the open hearted-ness and compassion they like. But Jesus came to save lost sinners, and He is the only way to that.

    We ask the wrong question about Jesus’ exclusivity because we don’t understand (or deny) God’s holiness. The question shouldn’t be, “Why is there only one way to salvation?” It should be, “Why is there a way at all for people who rebel against their sovereign creator every day?” Humans tend to demand that God be gracious to them, but that wouldn’t be grace.

  51. eMatters…

    We ask the wrong question about Jesus’ exclusivity because we don’t understand (or deny) God’s holiness.

    It should come as no great surprise to anyone who claims to believe in an everlasting and omnipotent, omniscient God that we – none of us – fully understand God’s “holiness” – God’s “apart-ness,” God’s “Other-ness.” How could any mortal and partial-knowing expect to fully understand the immortal and all-knowing?

    We see through a glass darkly now, the Bible teaches, and I think that’s true and self-evident on matters of philosophy such as this. Does that seem reasonable to you?

    Given that, considering your statement…

    The question shouldn’t be, “Why is there only one way to salvation?” It should be, “Why is there a way at all for people who rebel against their sovereign creator every day?”

    I guess I would just wonder why SHOULDN’T someone have that question? Who decided that it’s an unreasonable question? When dealing with the Mystery of the Great I Am, it seems to me that any questions we might have are reasonable ones.

    As to your prefered question (“Why is there a way at all…”), I think people are asking a reasonable question. Why would a relatively few days of rebellion “earn” an everlasting eternity in inescapable torment? The consequence seems disproportionate to the action as we (we who are created in the image of this very same God, who have God’s law written upon our hearts and minds, who are just a little lower than this same God… all according to the Bible) understand Justice and Grace. So, I for one am fine with the question. It seems to be a reasonable one to me.

  52. In the Buddha’s culture, people were typically prone to three afflictions; greed, aversion, & delusion. You could call these people “sinners” if you wish. The Buddha discovered a method whereby such sufferers could be freed of his affliction. He called it the eightfold path, the eight parts of which were broken into three subsections of ethics, concentration, & wisdom. The Buddha is also said to have claimed he had discovered The [only] Way to a life free from suffering, though it’s also possible that this exclusionary element was added in later by his prideful followers. It’s also known that he claimed you should do what works for you.

    There is much disagreement within Buddhism over the details; was he saying that there would be a reward in the afterlife or in this life or both? This divides many of the current Buddhist sects. Mostly, he described a method to an open and compassionate heart. It just makes no sense to me at all that such a person would be condemned to any sort of hell; in life or beyond; and anyone who insists that any open-hearted, compassionate doer of good deeds for his fellow beings, be they Hindu, Muslim, Jew, witch doctor or atheist is damned to hell because they’re not a Christian, is quite fully off his rocker

    Fear not, though. You’ve got a lot of company, in all faiths.

  53. “It just makes no sense to me at all that such a person would be condemned to any sort of hell; in life or beyond; and anyone who insists that any open-hearted, compassionate doer of good deeds for his fellow beings, be they Hindu, Muslim, Jew, witch doctor or atheist is damned to hell because they’re not a Christian, is quite fully off his rocker”

    So all authentic Christians are off their rockers? How open-hearted and compassionate.

    And I do mean “authentic,” because those who really trust in Jesus for their salvation realize that the entire Bible turned out how He wanted it to. Following his teachings means following his warnings about false teachers, his warnings about Hell, his claims to divinity, his claims to being the only way to salvation, etc.

    The Bible is the word of God and couldn’t be more clear about the consequences of worshiping false gods, or making up one in your own image. I encourage you to read “The Holiness of God” by R.C. Sproul to get a good overview of who God is. Of course no one can have a perfect grasp of God, but He gave us the Bible for a reason. Anyone who thinks you can’t learn all you need to know about him and his holiness is uninformed or a false teacher. He is perfectly holy and our sins against an eternal God have eternal consequences. People are very good at bringing God down and bringing humans up, and they end up sitting in judgment of God. Good luck with that.


  54. “I recognize inconsistency among Christians, and I declare that to be because Christianity itself is false”
    That statement can only be made by someone unfamiliar with Christian doctrine. Christians are united on the essentials (e.g., Jesus’ divinity and exclusivity for salvation).

    I think the discussion here proves that Christians don’t agree even on essentials. You put forth two examples, the exclusivity for salvation seems under furious dispute, and even Jesus’ divinity isn’t universally recognized. Of course that does get into the definition of what a ‘true’ Christian is. But I like the definition being people trying to live according to the teachings of Jesus. If that’s the case, then the tent is large and there are disconnects even on the most fundamental aspects of Christian doctrine. That would also sit badly with Catholics, for example, who revere the word of the Earthly Church as representation of the Trinitarian god, with the revealed teachings of Jesus being important but not absolute.

    Imagine for a moment Unitarian Universalists, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, and Mormons. All are recognized as major sects of Christianity, yet they have different books with different interpretations and different histories. I’m happy to listen to one Christian’s view of Christianity, but it’s a nonsense question to ask what “true” Christianity is.

  55. For an interesting and very logical, biblical look at how “hell” has been misunderstood by Christianity for years (owing much more to old Roman Catholicism, Milton, Dante and, interestingly, Islamic teachings than biblical ones) I think this study is a helpful source.

  56. “I think the discussion here proves that Christians don’t agree even on essentials. You put forth two examples, the exclusivity for salvation seems under furious dispute, and even Jesus’ divinity isn’t universally recognized.”

    Just because false teachers dispute the doctrines of Jesus’ exclusivity or divinity doesn’t mean real Christians don’t agree on the essentials. I don’t think one has to be a theologian to understand this. Here’s an example: I can point to literally 100+ passages that claim directly or indirect that Jesus is the only way to salvation (I’ll list a few at the end of this comment). Now that isn’t what makes it true, of course. We point to the evidence for his life, death and resurrection for that. But it does mean that no one can claim to take the Bible and Christianity seriously if they deny that. Same thing with the oxymoronic “Christian pluralism.” Anyone who has read the Old Testament (not to mention the 100 passages I just mentioned) would laugh at any claim that Christianity recognizes other religions as valid. You’ll lose count at how many times the Israelites are punished for following false gods.

    The same goes for his divinity. Do some claim the name of Christ and deny that? Sure. We have a name for them: Non-Christians.

    Again, the Bible teaches many times that there will be false teachers, people who aren’t really saved but claim to be Christians (see 1 John for that) and disputes on non-essentials.

    “Of course that does get into the definition of what a ‘true’ Christian is. But I like the definition being people trying to live according to the teachings of Jesus.”

    I don’t follow that. If you are saying no one can agree what He really said, then how do you know what you are following? Note that Christians consider these to be part of his teachings:

    John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
    Acts 4:11-12 He is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
    Acts 16:30-31 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
    1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
    1 John 2:23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
    1 John 5:11-12 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
    Luke 10:16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
    Luke 12:8-9 “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.
    John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
    John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
    John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
    John 10:7-8 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.

    • Ematters…

      But it does mean that no one can claim to take the Bible and Christianity seriously if they deny that.

      And who gets to make that decision, brother Neil? And on what basis?

      Or, in other words, who died and made you God?

      The point stands: There is no one who has the authority to speak for God and say, “This follower of Christ is not a Christian…” You CAN say, “I don’t find their position biblically tenable,” or, “That position is not consistent within the traditional understanding that most Southern Baptists have held…,” etc, but you have no rational or biblical authority to say that those who disagree with you on a given topic are not “serious” followers of Christ.

      There are more things under heaven and earth, dear Neil,
      Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

  57. Jason, when I refer to fake Christians I picture people like Dan. I have a lot of experience with him masquerading as a Bible-believer at conservative sites, and I just ignore him. He was banned from my site years ago. It is obvious that my trust in the real Jesus of the Bible sets him off. In fact, you might follow his comments a bit and see the hypocrisy in his “Gee, we just can’t know anything” lines juxtaposed against his deep commitments to his anti-biblical views.

    I realize this will send Dan into a frenzy, but here is some more background — http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/false-teacher-profile/ .

    I know John likes us to play nice so that is all I will say about him here. Just keep in mind that when you find it so easy to agree with Dan’s “Christianity” and still remain a non-Christian that it may be because he is peddling a false gospel. Jesus warned of these fakes many times and as usual He was right.

    The only good thing about him participating here is that he proves my points so well. Consider the irony of him saying: “The point stands: There is no one who has the authority to speak for God and say, “This follower of Christ is not a Christian…””

    I actually agree that only God really knows the hearts of people. Jesus taught us to make right judgments and the standards to use. But more to the point here, Dan’s quote is self-refuting. He has made up an absolute about there being no absolutes. I could spend all day refuting him, but I won’t. I just wanted to warn you.

    Cheers.

  58. Brother Neil, I’m right here. If you have something to say to me, please do.

    Let’s be adult in our disagreements, shall we?

    You know what the Bible has to say about gossip and slander…

    One point to take from this, though, is that people like me who ARE factually Bible believers and Christians (ie, followers of the teachings of Christ) need not always agree with folk like Neil, who is not the final arbiter of all things Christian.

    eMatters…

    Dan’s quote is self-refuting. He has made up an absolute about there being no absolutes.

    I stated an obviously valid point, “There is no one who has the authority to speak for God…” The point stands on its own as self-evident. God has not pronounced for all the world to see and hear that Neil speaks on God’s behalf. Neil (or Dan or John B) might THINK that we hold the right hunch about what God’s positions are on various points, but it remains objectively an unprovable theory at this stage of the game.

    Agreed?

    (Conversations work much better when there’s actual, you know, conversation, my brother. Just a hint.)

  59. eM, Dan is not the case in point here. I am saying that Christian has no foundation, as evidenced by the fact that Christians can’t agree. I would allow you Mormons, but when Mormons are joined by countless other cults, Catholics have Anglicans, Baptists contrast with Methodists, and the Bible has Jews and Muslims, the disparity is simply too great. I’m not trying to say that one exception breaks the rule. Crazies are everywhere.
    I’m saying that when you have simplicity and truth, one should expect consensus.
    1) hell exists. – Great swaths of Christianity disagree on this fundamental point as well as:
    2) hell has fire
    3) one is saved by faith alone.

    Dan makes a good point that you are not the arbiter of Chrsitianity or truth. This is a good point not because Dan said it nor because he claims Christianity, but because it is true. You, I’m sure, would agree. So that means you speak for your version of Christianity. And every point you make will be countered by some Christian somewhere, probably lots and lots of them. That is the most damning indictment of the truth of Christianity. But as I’ve noted, I am focused on ethics rather than truth. Be wrong about Jesus if you want, but be right about how to treat others. Don’t let the Bible or your view of Christianity cause you to harm others, mentally or physically.

  60. Jason…

    And every point you make will be countered by some Christian somewhere, probably lots and lots of them. That is the most damning indictment of the truth of Christianity.

    I don’t see how disagreeing about things unprovable is in any way a “damning indictment.” Philosophers of all stripes are disagreed with by other philosophers. That disagreement about things unprovable in no way damns any one or the whole set of philosophers, does it?

  61. “Dan makes a good point that you are not the arbiter of Chrsitianity or truth.”

    Uh, wouldn’t that point apply to him as well, such that you’d ignore his claims about Christianity that you like?

    “Be wrong about Jesus if you want, but be right about how to treat others. Don’t let the Bible or your view of Christianity cause you to harm others, mentally or physically.”

    Now you are back to groundless atheism. They make moral claims — then often concede they don’t live up to them themselves (e.g., Max’s statement: “Do you foster harmony among fellow humans and other sentient creatures? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t,”) — but they never have any grounding for why someone else should care about their opinions.

    Christianity has the foundation, not atheism.

    You imply that we harm people by sharing the Gospel. But we say it is the Good News and we are following Jesus’ teachings (you know, the teachings you claim to like) that we are to share it. Why are you trying to force your religious views on us and telling us not to share this Good News?

    I hope you will reconsider your views and actually study the Bible carefully. When you say things about liking Jesus’ teachings it implies that you have actually studied them. Yet you appear to strongly disagree with many of them.

    You also might find that the Bible clearly addresses the categories I mentioned (false teachers, disputable matters, false conversions) such that your “some people disagree about Christianity so it must be false” meme doesn’t stand up to facts or logic.

  62. Jesus taught that there would be false teachers and those who disagree (again, part of his teachings that you claim to like). He even said that “many” would be false believers (Matthew 7:22). So your real issue would be if all Christians agreed on everything and there were no false teachers.

    And since not all atheists agree, I assume that is wrong as well?

  63. “Be wrong about Jesus if you want, but be right about how to treat others.”

    You and others claim we can’t know what the Bible means. So how can anyone ever know if we are right or wrong about Jesus?

    I have reliability translated and transmitted texts of the word of God to support my views, yet you want me to ignore that and go with your command to be right about how to treat others. But why should I trust your command, let alone your definition of what the “right way” is? For example, it is a scientific fact that the unborn are human beings from fertilization and it sure seems wrong in my views (with or without the Bible) to crush and dismember them simply because they are unwanted. Yet so many people — including some Christians and “Christians” disagree.

    • eMatters…

      So how can anyone ever know if we are right or wrong about Jesus?

      Objectively speaking, you can’t. I can’t. We can’t. We can’t “prove” OUR understanding of Jesus or his teachings are the “right” ones. This is just an observable reality. Do you disagree? If so, then how CAN you objectively “know” and “prove” that YOUR understanding of Jesus’ teachings on any given point is the One Right Understanding?

      On the other hand, we can objectively identify good and bad behavior. We can say that that which causes harm to others is self-evidently wrong and ought not be encouraged.

      Further, we can objectively acknowledge that not all morality is black and white… Is it wrong to steal bread? What if it’s to save a starving child’s life when no other way presents itself?

      Acknowledging that there are some truths that are self-evident and abandoning the rather bully-like approach of suggesting “I have the One True Understanding of morality because I have the One True Interpretation of The Bible and those who disagree with me are just wrong…” seems to me the more rational and moral way to go, even (especially) for Christians such as ourselves.

  64. Dan,

    That was marvelously succinct and I agree completely. The corollary of this, however,

    On the other hand, we can objectively identify good and bad behavior. We can say that that which causes harm to others is self-evidently wrong and ought not be encouraged.

    is that a Hindu, Buddhist or even an atheist is just as morally correct as a Christian if they objectively behave well, and to consider such a person condemned for eternity would be manifestly unjust. To me, this makes the non-inclusive teachings of Jesus or any other prophet highly suspect. “I am the way” just cannot be correct. “I present a way” seems much more appropriate, and more along the lines of how the Buddha is said to have presented his teachings.

  65. eM, I can tell I struck a nerve. I’ll ignore the frantic defenses and clarify some points.

    A scientific and rational ethical approach to the world does not claim absolute truth from a divine, all-knowing and infallible source. Christianity often does. Because Christians wave the Bible and declare ‘absolute knowledge’ the disagreement about that Bible is ‘damning’ which is to say the disagreement disproves the claim of absolute knowledge. Christians claim absolute truth, recognize disagreements among various sects, admit their lack of ability to interpret god’s will perfectly, and still want others to accept everything they say as true simply because they labelled it ‘Christian’. That is just crazy.

    Let us contrast with the scientific and rational ethical approach. If a scientist explains evolution, for example, you can reject it all you want. But it makes bananas, antibiotics, taxonomy, genetic medicine (for diagnosis and treatment), and to a great extent, teaches us our connection with other life. Science is also self-correcting. Social Darwinism, for example, is an offshoot of biological evolution whereby the idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ was transported from its biological roots to be applied to sociology and politics. That was a huge fail. It was considered, applied to unfortunate outcome, and rejected roundly within the space of a few decades. This shows that science has a functional self-correction mechanism that expands the human body of knowledge to our benefit over time. This is the opposite of the religious approach which is to read old books, contemplate, and reject anything contrary to dogma (violently if necessary). That has reliably retarded the development of humanity.

    The same system exists in rational, humanistic ethics. I agree that abortion is a difficult question. That has been hashed out elsewhere, but suffice it to say there are valid secular arguments. We don’t reject the opposition, but simply advocate for our position on its merits. Look, for example, at slavery. How did the Bible get slavery wrong? Or rape, or torture, or women’s rights? It definitely got homosexuality wrong as well. But let’s just look at slavery alone. The Bible was used globally to justify slavery. We’ll never go back because we learned to reject the teachings of the Bible and instead look at the rights of individuals and opportunity for human flourishing. No matter how many passages in the Bible oppose slavery or how many Christians served in the abolitionist movement, the fact remains that God didn’t stop it, countless prophets condoned the practice, it’s approved of and even regulated within the Bible, and slavery existed for over 1000 years of Christian rule in the west.

    A good and true humanity is out there to be found, but the Bible is a questionable source for either.

  66. “Dan, That was marvelously succinct and I agree completely. The corollary of this, however,”

    Thanks for proving my point: The false teacher and the professed non-believers agree.

    “On the other hand, we can objectively identify good and bad behavior. We can say that that which causes harm to others is self-evidently wrong and ought not be encouraged.”

    No, you have no grounding for that. Molecules in motion do not make morality. I think abortion is self-evidently wrong and should be discouraged, but with your reasoning it only takes one person to disagree and the whole “self-evident” bit is out the window.

    Lions harm gazelles. Is that immoral? What chemical reaction created morality within the human species?

    “is that a Hindu, Buddhist or even an atheist is just as morally correct as a Christian if they objectively behave well, and to consider such a person condemned for eternity would be manifestly unjust.”

    You don’t understand the most foundational points of Christianity. Whether you agree with it or not there is no reason to misstate its beliefs like that. Christianity doesn’t claim that we are saved by behaving well. It says the opposite: We are saved in spite of our behaving badly, and we are saved by the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

    “To me, this makes the non-inclusive teachings of Jesus or any other prophet highly suspect. “I am the way” just cannot be correct.”

    Who made you God? If the real God provides one way to salvation then it doesn’t matter if you like it or not.

    ““I present a way” seems much more appropriate, and more along the lines of how the Buddha is said to have presented his teachings.”

    That is just as bold a claim — actually more bold, and more non-sensical. How could Jesus claim to be “the” way and just one way at the same time?

    • eMatters…

      No, you have no grounding for that. Molecules in motion do not make morality. I think abortion is self-evidently wrong and should be discouraged, but with your reasoning it only takes one person to disagree and the whole “self-evident” bit is out the window.

      I don’t believe you are understanding what “self-evident” means. It doesn’t mean that every single person in the world agrees to a point.

      I, along with Thomas Jefferson and much of the modern world believe in the notion that some truths are self-evident, Neil. Including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

      Do you disagree with that sentiment?

  67. “eM, I can tell I struck a nerve. I’ll ignore the frantic defenses and clarify some points.”

    Thanks for the grins. Gee, how could you tell I was frantic? Was I typing too quickly? How about if you skip the ad hominem arguments and stick to the facts?

    “A scientific and rational ethical approach to the world does not claim absolute truth from a divine, all-knowing and infallible source. ”

    Whoa! Please stop right there. I see a major part of your problem. Seriously. You are making a category error. There is no “scientific” approach to ethics. You might use scientific information as part of a moral claim — e.g., it is a scientific fact that the unborn are human beings — but there is no scientific experiment that says whether abortion is morally right or wrong. That is a philosophical argument: It is immoral to kill unborn human beings for 99% of the reasons given for abortions (i.e., everything except to save the life of the mother).

    There is a God, and He is the supreme law-giver. It is completely rational to derive ethical approaches from his communications. If there is no God, then all is permissible, as the saying goes. You seem to concede this by noting that people don’t agree on ethics. With no universal standard it is necessarily survival of the fittest / majority rules / etc., but those are all based on power and not real ethics.

    “Christians claim absolute truth, recognize disagreements among various sects, admit their lack of ability to interpret god’s will perfectly, and still want others to accept everything they say as true simply because they labelled it ‘Christian’. That is just crazy.”

    No, it isn’t crazy, it is a straw-man argument on your part.

    “Let us contrast with the scientific and rational ethical approach. If a scientist explains evolution, for example, you can reject it all you want. But it makes bananas, antibiotics, taxonomy, genetic medicine (for diagnosis and treatment), and to a great extent, teaches us our connection with other life.”

    Micro-evolution is true and non-controversial, macro-evolution is false and wildly political. Neither produce any universal ethical demands. In fact, they do the opposite: They would support a survival-of-the-fittest approach where anything goes, yet I doubt that is the system you are advocating. As usual, Darwinists can’t live consistently with their worldview.

    “Science is also self-correcting. Social Darwinism, for example, is an offshoot of biological evolution whereby the idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ was transported from its biological roots to be applied to sociology and politics. That was a huge fail. It was considered, applied to unfortunate outcome, and rejected roundly within the space of a few decades.”

    You are mixing apples and oranges. Yes, it failed, but only because people recognized the failure based on the law God wrote on their hearts (Romans 2). But there was nothing “scientific” that failed. Some people just saw that the logical conclusions of the alleged science were horrific. I say “some,” because many, like the founder of Planned Parenthood, thought it was swell.

    “This shows that science has a functional self-correction mechanism that expands the human body of knowledge to our benefit over time. This is the opposite of the religious approach which is to read old books, contemplate, and reject anything contrary to dogma (violently if necessary). That has reliably retarded the development of humanity.”

    But that wasn’t a scientific correction, it was a philosophical one. And your “religious approach” is a straw man. The age of the Bible has nothing to do with its veracity.

    “I agree that abortion is a difficult question. That has been hashed out elsewhere, but suffice it to say there are valid secular arguments. We don’t reject the opposition, but simply advocate for our position on its merits. ”

    Why is it difficult? Over 3,000 innocent beings were crushed and dismembered in the U.S. today. That is either moral or immoral, but not both. With all due respect, you sound awfully mealy mouthed on the issue. If abortion is wrong, nothing is wrong. Yet you are willing to sit that out. Who cares about your other definitions of what is right?

    “Look, for example, at slavery. How did the Bible get slavery wrong?”

    It didn’t. Those who actually study the topic and don’t just quote from The Big Book of Atheist Sound Bites know that the slavery in the U.S. was wildly different from the Roman Empire. The death penalty was commanded for kidnapping, which is what happened to the African slaves. See http://www.pleaseconvinceme.com/index/What_God_Says_About_Slavery for more.

    “Or rape, or torture, or women’s rights?”

    Christianity has done more for women’s rights than any other belief system. Try studying how women were treated at the time then read the Bible carefully. Paul was surely as controversial then as He is now, but for the opposite reason: elevating the status of women and commanding men to love them as Christ loved the church.

    “It definitely got homosexuality wrong as well. ”

    LOL. Says who? Seems like the “scientific, rational” crowd would realize that homosexuality isn’t genetic (that’s a fact) and that it runs contrary to the Darwinian model. And before you tell me how some animals exhibit the behavior, note that it is often when the conditions are substandard. Also note that dogs my try to hump female dogs, male dogs, coffee tables, your legs, etc. If you want to use animal behavior as your standard then have fun with that.

    “No matter how many passages in the Bible oppose slavery or how many Christians served in the abolitionist movement, the fact remains that God didn’t stop it, countless prophets condoned the practice, it’s approved of and even regulated within the Bible, and slavery existed for over 1000 years of Christian rule in the west.”

    See the link above about your slavery misconceptions.

    Also note your concern about God not stopping it. Who are you to judge God? Do you want free will or not? Why does God have to step into your world and stop every injustice? Is He unjust if he lets you get a hangnail? (Yes, I know slavery is inexplicably worse, but the logical conclusion of your argument is that a “loving” God would never allow any pain anywhere.) Would He be unjust if He killed you today to prevent you from hurting someone else tomorrow?

    More importantly, do you want God to judge evil or not? It is so ironic that you blame him for not stopping sinners then you object when He sees fit to punish them in his good time. Pick a lane, my friend! Do you want God to judge sin, or not?

    The good news is that He is a perfect judge. You all reject his holiness and existence and sit in judgment of him. But He has never committed an injustice. He will give perfect justice. You can pay for all your sins or you can trust in Jesus and his sacrifice on your behalf. But don’t pretend that you weren’t warned.

    “A good and true humanity is out there to be found, but the Bible is a questionable source for either.”

    You haven’t demonstrated a single reason for anyone to trust that your version of it could be found or how we’d know if we found it. And I prefer my Bible lessons from people who have actually studied it carefully.

    Hope that wasn’t too frantic for you. I tried to type slowly ;-).

    Cheers.

    • eMatters…

      If there is no God, then all is permissible, as the saying goes. You seem to concede this by noting that people don’t agree on ethics. With no universal standard it is necessarily survival of the fittest / majority rules / etc., but those are all based on power and not real ethics.

      Who says this is what must be? Who says that, “If there is no God, then there are no rules…”? Why can’t we acknowledge rules for other reasons, beyond just “‘cuz God said so…”? In fact, isn’t the “morality” of “‘cuz God says so,” not really all that much a morality, just a bending of the will to some random supreme being?

      For many of us Christians, “God says so” not just as a whim of God’s character, but rather, rules are suggested for OUR sake. “The Sabbath is for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath,” Jesus taught.

      That is, we have rules that make self-evident sense for our good, not just some random demand from a whimsical god (or, more correctly, the self-proclaimed priests of this supposed god).

      Who says we can’t have rules upon self-evident right and wrong?

      My concern in this approach, brother Neil, is that it over-simplifies things and runs the risk of letting mere mortals usurp the place of God with their own little rules and hunches (see the Pharisees and how they were regularly blasted for their arrogant and bullying rule-making).

      I have always found this suggestion that non-believers have no rational grounds for morality to be a non-starter. It comes across as abrasive and tends to shut down discussion, rather than encourage it.

      One man’s humble opinion.

  68. And that, for what it’s worth, from a fella who has actually studied the Bible quite a bit, thank you.

  69. There’s no point in arguing with an absolutist. They just close their eyes and ears and shout louder. I think we’ve come nicely full circle to a post of several days ago that claimed that all of these points (anti-abortion, homosexuality, atheism) can be argued rationally without relying upon the Bible and Sabio’s vigorous denial of this position.

  70. I have always found this suggestion that non-believers have no rational grounds for morality to be a non-starter. It comes across as abrasive and tends to shut down discussion, rather than encourage it.

    A non-believer thanks you.

    • Jason (to eMatters)…

      The ONLY thing you can say is ‘god says so’.

      And, to be even more exact, the only thing we can truly say is, “I THINK ‘God says so…'” and, unfortunately, some folk conflate what THEY THINK to be equal to what God says.

      Neil/eMatters: Do you think Jefferson was wrong and that there are NO self-evident truths?

      That is the question you really ought to address because it points to a giant hole in your argument, such as it is. If you can’t address that question, then perhaps you shouldn’t be surprised that we (Christians and non-theists alike) can’t really take your points very seriously.

  71. “There’s no point in arguing with an absolutist. They just close their eyes and ears and shout louder. ”

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m sure you have changed your views on some issues when confronted by evidence and logic, just like I have.

    “I think we’ve come nicely full circle to a post of several days ago that claimed that all of these points (anti-abortion, homosexuality, atheism) can be argued rationally without relying upon the Bible and Sabio’s vigorous denial of this position.”

    I can argue against abortion and oxymoronic “same-sex marriage” all day without the Bible. It just so happens that the Bible agrees with the pro-life and pro-real marriage views. Or, rather, the logical conclusions of secular reasoning (e.g., don’t crush and dismember innocent human beings just because they are unwanted) line up with the way the world really is, just as described in the Bible.

    “I have always found this suggestion that non-believers have no rational grounds for morality to be a non-starter. It comes across as abrasive and tends to shut down discussion, rather than encourage it.

    A non-believer thanks you.”

    Perhaps the non-believer could state his rational grounds without smuggling some morality in the back door? In a purely materialistic universe there is simply no grounding for morality.

    Many atheists deliberately misinterpret that and say we are calling them immoral (well, they are, but we concede that we are as well). But that isn’t our claim. We acknowledge that some atheists behave well compared to human standards. Our point, which I’ve never seen refuted, is that they have no universal grounding for their morality. They can’t explain it scientifically. In fact, morality is immaterial so in their materialistic worldview it is just a fiction of our randomly colliding molecules. Lots of philosophical atheists concede that point, but too many amateurs haven’t studied up on the topic.

  72. Again, I encourage all of you skeptics to study your Bible very carefully (And not with someone who already agrees with your religious — er . . . non-religious — views — that would be a tip-off that you are dealing with a false teacher — you’ll see what I mean when you get to that part. As James notes, even the demons believe in God — and shudder. Lots of false teachers know some things about the Bible. My prayer is that God opens their eyes to the truth while they are busy rebelling against him and abusing the text).

    Worst case scenario: You’ll do a better job of telling authentic Christians why we are wrong and won’t repeat such transparently bad arguments. Best case scenario: God opens your eyes to his truth and you repent and believe in Jesus and are saved for eternity. It’s win-win. I recommend the ESV translation with the study Bible built in. It will answer many common questions. Here’s a link — http://www.amazon.com/ESV-Study-Bible-Crossway-Bibles/dp/1433502410/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1325114374&sr=8-1 . There is a great Kindle edition as well.

    Have fun, guys!

  73. eM,
    I think my points stand pretty well as they are. I will add a few clarifications though.

    I did say ‘scientific and rational’ approach to ethics. Science is the best way to understand the reality of the world around us, to avoid fooling ourselves with imperfect reason, imperfect senses, and personal biases. The rational part allows us to both accurately weigh evidence and fill in the blanks in our knowledge. The alternative is to defer to tradition or authority.

    Your assertion about ‘god is supreme law-giver’ is a case in point. The ONLY thing you can say is ‘god says so’. If it causes poverty (abortion), suicide (gay hatred), societal degredation (slavery), dead children (faith healing), war (the middle ages), cronyism, graft, rape, etc (clergy of many vestments), then it simply doesn’t matter. Any believer A who can convince believer B that ‘god said so’ is home free to do anything.

    When the ultimate focus is on what is best for humanity, then ‘let’s kill the infidels’ has to pass a higher test. It’s not ‘god said so’ it’s is that a humane and caring thing to do? It is possible to reason to a conclusion about what actions will improve our lot in life and our relationship to other people, and those conclusions will become progressively better over time with a scientific and rational approach.

    A religious/faith-based/dogmatic approach will stagnate over centuries fighting a long-term battle against truth and ethics to build stratified and despotic clergy structures. At least that’s what has happened wherever religion has been entangled with government successfully. Option B is where religion is entangled in government and becomes a joke, like in the UK. Fortunately, in the US, religion is individual and flourishes because individuals can say whatever they like about whatever Christianity is or is not. Intrusions of one type of Christianity into government have, at least to this point, been progressively removed for the benefit of all individuals. That is due primarily to Christians disagreeing with each other, not any success of atheists. Also, to be fair, the compassionate and humanistic sensibilities of some Christians have guided their faith away from the more dogmatic and xenophobic scriptures and clergy. So that’s good.

    ps. Sam Harris – The Moral Landscape is a good read for this relationship between science and ethics. He doesn’t make as much of a distinction between science-based reason and scientific experiments, but it does explain the position in more detail.

    • Jason

      Uh oh, but people must use their imperfect reasoning skills, senses, and biases when interpreting the evidence. Evidence does not interpret itself. Science doesn’t say anything, scientists do, and they all have a naturalist filter– which is a philosophical presupposition since there is no scientific discovery or law that requires naturalism, it is imposed on the field.

      I read harris’ book, it was good but deeply philosophically flawed. However, there was one thing I think he hit right on the nose. In his intro, I believe, Harris states (roughly) when there is a dispute with scientific hypotheses no one throws up their hands and says “oh well, there must not be an answer” why then do people do it with disputed moral issues. But in the end, I don’t think naturalism can account for morality on any level (see: Who Needs Morality)

      PS. Its bugging the hell out of me (pun intended) that this discussion has gotten so far off the original topic. However I do think it is a good discussion.

  74. eM,
    “Science is the best way to understand the reality of the world around us, to avoid fooling ourselves with imperfect reason, imperfect senses, and personal biases.”

    Science is great for material things, but by definition it doesn’t deal with immaterial things. And you can’t use science to prove that you should only trust science (circular reference).

    And Darwinian evolution selects for survivability, not truth, so, ironically, you have no rational basis to trust your rationality.

    “The rational part allows us to both accurately weigh evidence and fill in the blanks in our knowledge. The alternative is to defer to tradition or authority.”

    You beg the question and assume we don’t have evidence for God, the Bible, the resurrection, etc. We have loads — teleological, cosmological, historical, archeological, etc. It is what helped convert me from atheism.

    “Your assertion about ‘god is supreme law-giver’ is a case in point. The ONLY thing you can say is ‘god says so’. If it causes poverty (abortion), suicide (gay hatred), societal degredation (slavery), dead children (faith healing), war (the middle ages), cronyism, graft, rape, etc (clergy of many vestments), then it simply doesn’t matter. Any believer A who can convince believer B that ‘god said so’ is home free to do anything.”

    Not at all. That would be the logical conclusion of the false teachers who are totally sure that you can’t be totally sure what the Bible says. I know abortion, suicide, bullying, rape, etc. are all wrong. The fakes will tell you we just can’t be sure because then we’d be putting ourselves in the place of God. (P.S. I won’t tell Max you are one of those nasty absolutists.)

    You drank the kool-aid on gay hatred. 1. In your worldview, Darwinian evo caused gay hatred, Christianity, etc. Stop hating on your own worldview! 2. Gays have lots of other issues that lead to suicide. 3. Lots of atheists hate gays (or try to convince me that Matthew Sheperd’s killers — who may not have killed him just for being gay — just came from a Focus on the Family “Love Won Out” conference). 4. Tons of people hate me just for being a Christian, being pro-life and pro-real marriage and I’m not the least bit suicidal, so the hate ==> suicide is a canard. I’m probably way nicer to gays than the average atheist, and not just because I’ll tell them the truth if they ask.

    Side note: That is so sad that you consider abortion to be a poverty-preventer. Using that logic, why not kill the kids outside the womb? They consume way more resources than the unborn or newborns. Or let the kid be born then kill the most expensive kid. Wouldn’t that be the most logical way to proceed once your scientifically based morality has deemed it acceptable to kill an innocent human being? (P.S. Note to self: Don’t let Jason travel to 3rd world countries. He thinks nearly all those people should be dead, because the poor in the U.S. live like kings and queens compared to them. I know a lot of very joyful people whose deaths in the womb would have been applauded as pragmatic here in the U.S.)

    “When the ultimate focus is on what is best for humanity, then ‘let’s kill the infidels’ has to pass a higher test.”

    What higher test? In your worldview the answer will always be, “Whoever is in power.” That isn’t a higher test, just a flavor change.

    ” It’s not ‘god said so’ it’s is that a humane and caring thing to do? It is possible to reason to a conclusion about what actions will improve our lot in life and our relationship to other people, and those conclusions will become progressively better over time with a scientific and rational approach.”

    Yeah, the Enlightenment crowd was really confident of that until that pesky 20th century came along and ruined it.

    “ps. Sam Harris – The Moral Landscape is a good read for this relationship between science and ethics. He doesn’t make as much of a distinction between science-based reason and scientific experiments, but it does explain the position in more detail.”

    Would that be the Sam Harris who thought that rape had some evolutionary benefits but now does not? I’ll pass. Again, rationalize all you like, but no amount of chemical reactions can’t make morality. Any “morality” discussed by atheists is by definition moral relativism.

    Cheers.

  75. Marshall Art says:

    “And, to be even more exact, the only thing we can truly say is, “I THINK ‘God says so…’” and, unfortunately, some folk conflate what THEY THINK to be equal to what God says.”

    This is not true as far as the people with whom you usually debate. But you use that line to pretend your indefensible positions are possible.

    “Do you think Jefferson was wrong and that there are NO self-evident truths?

    That is the question you really ought to address because it points to a giant hole in your argument, such as it is. “

    A hole you took no time to describe. But what of the question? I can agree with Jefferson and still dispute what YOU believe is self-evident. Jefferson stated “we hold these truths to be self-evident”. That does not mean that they are in fact true, but only that they regard them as such.

  76. eM (and JB’s response),
    Christian scientific reasoning: “Science can explain things, unless science excludes my beliefs, and then my beliefs are outside science.” Creationists are perfectly happy to reach out to science and benefit from its advances so long as it suits their purposes, but when science, as a process and as a body of experts, rejects their claims, then, well, science is no longer wanted.

    And you want to write off Sam Harris for some random rape comment, yet you give all the allowance in the world for false Biblical morality. The best example of moral relativism is religion. I’m not talking about your perfect, divinely-revealed understanding of universal order. I’m just talking about every Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Mormon, and Christian who disagrees with you, and says they have perfect god-revealed morality and don’t have to justify it.

    Side note: abortion prevents poverty because it allows mothers can be empowered about their lives, not because the babies take up resources. But you’re right, there is a conflict between a flourishing society and unwanted, unsupported kids of impoverished, uneducated, unprepared mothers. All the pro-life rhetoric in the world, and more importantly, all the prayers in the world haven’t fed unwanted kids or provided financial support and education to unfit parents.

  77. “Christian scientific reasoning: “Science can explain things, unless science excludes my beliefs, and then my beliefs are outside science.” ”

    That is inaccurate. Science, by definition, addresses material things. We just know that there are immaterial things as well. Religion can address both. Christianity points to historic events, such as the physical resurrection of Jesus.

    “Creationists are perfectly happy to reach out to science and benefit from its advances so long as it suits their purposes, but when science, as a process and as a body of experts, rejects their claims, then, well, science is no longer wanted.”

    Pure straw man. There are dozens of branches of science. One portion of one branch of science is hopelessly poisoned by materialist ideology, and we reject that based on evidence and logic.

    And as usual, your claims prove too much. Even IF Darwinian evo wasn’t a sham, you still haven’t explained how the universe came into being without a cause and how life came from non-life. You just have your “naturalism of the gaps” blind faith while we have a perfectly logical explanation.

    “And you want to write off Sam Harris for some random rape comment, yet you give all the allowance in the world for false Biblical morality.”

    There are many reasons to write off Harris. At least evos like Coyne try (they fail, but they try) to be consistent with the inevitable determinism that naturalism requires — e.g., http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2012-01-01/free-will-science-religion/52317624/1

    “Side note: abortion prevents poverty because it allows mothers can be empowered about their lives, not because the babies take up resources. ”

    So killing innocent human beings for “empowerment” (whatever wishy-washy way you want to define that) is a moral good? Wow. Again, note your importing of the moral good of “empowerment.” You have zero grounding for that, and even if you had some, moral people realize that human life is a greater ideal than fuzzy things like empowerment.

    If destroying innocent human life makes one empowered, then can you see how that philosophy can carry over to those outside the womb?

    “But you’re right, there is a conflict between a flourishing society”

    Naturalism has no support for your snuck-in-the-back-door moral good of a “flourishing” society. Seriously, try and go three sentences without contradicting your worldview and sneaking a universal morality in.

    “and unwanted, unsupported kids of impoverished, uneducated, unprepared mothers.”

    So it is OK to kill those outside the womb for all those reasons? Great morality.

    “All the pro-life rhetoric in the world, and more importantly, all the prayers in the world haven’t fed unwanted kids or provided financial support and education to unfit parents.”

    Again, the logical conclusion of your pro-abortion reasoning is that killing innocent human beings is a morally neutral (or morally good?) way to deal with the problems of unwanted, poor, or less educated people.

    And lots of Christians devote lots of time and money to those causes. Crisis Pregnancy Centers, for example, are nearly all funded by donations (the one where I’m a board member is 100% donor supported and staffed mostly with volunteers). Contrast that with the huge $$ made by the abortion industry. Ask Planned Parenthood for a free abortion and see how that works out.

    Pro-life rhetoric accomplishes a lot: It exposes the faulty logic of those who rationalize death because it supports their perverted view of human sexuality.

  78. eMatters and his friends here are very, very concerned with the sanctity of life, but apparently not so much with what the living have to experience; i.e., immense and unrelenting suffering. The more impoverished, unprepared parents having an abundance of children they can’t properly feed or support, the more suffering there is in this world. Family planning and education of women is one of the greatest influences to alleviate unnecessary suffering.

    Honestly, I don’t know what “sanctity of life” means. I believe consciousness, be it human or otherwise, is an astounding gift for which one should feel immense gratitude. Allowing those who are alive and conscious to experience this wonder and enjoy it to the fullest is my greatest wish. Suffering due to poverty and oppression is what makes this simple joy impossible.

    Somehow, I am expecting a “wow” for this.

  79. “eMatters and his friends here are very, very concerned with the sanctity of life, but apparently not so much with what the living have to experience; i.e., immense and unrelenting suffering.”

    Straw man. Or do you have access to my tax returns and calendar to be able to judge how much of my time and money I give? Perhaps you’d like to share all the things you do with your time and money to alleviate suffering other than advocating for the right to empower people by letting them crush and dismember innocent but unwanted human beings who MIGHT be poor (voting to have the gov’t confiscate other people’s money at the point of a gun doesn’t count as altruism on your part, btw).

    Wouldn’t it be more kind to let the unborn live, and then permit them to commit suicide if they are as unhappy as you claim?

    “The more impoverished, unprepared parents having an abundance of children they can’t properly feed or support, the more suffering there is in this world. Family planning and education of women is one of the greatest influences to alleviate unnecessary suffering.”

    Your primary problem is that you equate “family planning” with “killing innocent but unwanted human beings.” Such a deadly euphemism!

    “Honestly, I don’t know what “sanctity of life” means. I believe consciousness, be it human or otherwise, is an astounding gift for which one should feel immense gratitude. Allowing those who are alive and conscious to experience this wonder and enjoy it to the fullest is my greatest wish. Suffering due to poverty and oppression is what makes this simple joy impossible.”

    Sanctity of life means that human beings, being created in the image of God, have an inviolable sacredness. Their lives should not be taken just because they are unwanted, or have Down Syndrome, cost too much money, etc.

    Now you’ve abandoned the scientific fact that a new human being is created at fertilization and gone into (bad) philosophy.

    I agree that we should feel immense gratitude for life, which is why I literally thank God for that every day. To whom are you grateful?

    That is so compassionate of you to feel so badly about poverty that you’ll solve the problem by killing human beings before they have a chance to be poor (by your definition).

    “Somehow, I am expecting a “wow” for this.”

    You certainly deserve one!

Trackbacks

  1. […] was watching a theological liberal do his usual false teachings on this thread and noted with amusement how the atheists cheerily agreed with his religious views.  I pointed […]

  2. […] blog post to address some common objections of atheists.  There were a lot of similar comments at this thread but I thought this captured some key themes. Science is the best way to understand the reality of […]

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